A prerequisite for atheism to become ubiquitous

In order for atheism to become ubiquitous, certain widespread perceptions must be addressed and shown to be in error, and certain stereotypes must be countered.  Atheism is widely perceived to be something that is only for radical liberals who are far from the mainstream in both appearance and attitude.  First and foremost, those who want atheism to be ubiquitous must drive home the point, in the minds of the masses, that atheism is value neutral.  In other words, theists must come to understand that atheism is simply the lack of a belief in any deity, and that there are no socio-political-economic strings attached to the decision to become an atheist. 


These perceptions and stereotypes are promoted by factions of each of the two camps in the so-called "culture war":  (1)  Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck et al., who certainly promote caricatures, innacurate perceptions, and outright falsehoods about atheists and atheism (one of them being that, if you're not a liberal, then you must be a theist), and (2) a sub-set of liberal atheists who are actively hostile to non-liberal atheists (I have seen, on more than a few occasions, liberal atheists telling non-liberal atheists that the latter are an illogical combination, or that, as non-liberals, they do not belong on an atheist message board, or that atheism is the natural "turf" of the former group).  The assorted nonsense of the first group is already being countered by atheists.  I would like to see the second group become more accepting of atheists of all political and social persuasions, so that these pernicious perceptions and stereotypes, which greatly retard the spread of atheism, in my opinion, disappear.


Logically, there are two possible ubiquitous atheism futures:  (1) modernization converts everyone to liberalism, thereby undermining the very premise of this thread and destroying any self-imposed barriers to the masses accepting atheism, or (2) the perceptions and stereotypes that prevent many non-liberals from becoming atheists disappear.  The former is extremely unlikely, in my opinion, because there will always be non-liberals, such as conservatives and libertarians, as long as there are humans:  the desire for small, limited government, and many other non-liberal concerns---all of which are not at all incompatible with atheism---will always exist.  Instead of ignoring promising non-liberals, or writing them off, as I have seen many liberal atheists do, there should be outreach to such individuals.  Furthermore, non-liberals who are already atheists should be more vocal, and announce their existence as widely as possible. 


Finally, I am not saying that liberalism, and a personal style that is outside of the mainstream, are bad.  I am saying that it is bad when atheism is sincerely thought to be, politically, only for liberals, and socially, only for people who are outside the mainstream (when I tell people that I'm an atheist, I often encounter much surprise, because I don't have the "alternative" look).  Since the promotion of diversity is one of the core principles of the liberal ethos, I sincerely hope that liberal atheists will welcome and support non-liberal atheists.  :)

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Hey, as long as someone isn't a bigot I don't care. And if they are then I don't want anything to do with them. So what if we have differences of opinion regarding economics? No one cares. Especially since most of us are going to be and remain poor forever. It's the social aspect that can change my opinion of a person.
Your attitude is good, but all too often, I have seen political and economic debates on atheist message boards descend to one party playing the "This is an atheist message board, I'm the liberal, you really shouldn't even be here in the first place, therefore, I win"-card.
When you witness this type of stupidity you should stomp on it hard as with all stupidity. By the way, when is our great nation going to declare war on stupidity? We've declared war on everything else...
I think perceptions will change, and I also think they have already started to change. Up to this point most people wanting to maintain social status in the mainstream camp have had to hide or marginalize their atheism, I'm sure a lot of agnostics have used that term just to avoid the 'stigma' of being a godless radical. I did in my youth. The recent momentum of the atheist and skeptic movements will only make it more acceptable to admit and support these issues, regardless of political slant and personal values.
In the narrowest sense, atheism is simply 'without theism', nothing more. One of the problems that I see for atheists who'd like atheism to become ubiquitous is that theists cannot see how one can be a good and moral person, without a belief in "God", or at least a willingness to do as "God" supposedly tells us.

At the very least, as an atheist, I concede that atheists can behave however they wish, and not have to seriously take account of retribution from a god that does not exist. Of course there are upright and moral atheists, and there are flatly immoral theists, but the perception that "God" is the one and only key to morality, might be a big delusion to shift.
Atheist = liberal and theist = conservative are almost exclusively an American phenomenon. As a Scottish/Canadian I can tell you that liberal and conservative are socialist and monetary labels in those 2 countries. Granted there are small patches of theo-conservatives but they are vastly out numbered by those who choose sides based on fiscal conservatism or social issues. By social issues I mean health care and welfare etc.

America was once like that as well until Regan (if I recall correctly) cornered the fundy vote. So the fundies hijacked the GOP, probably to the dismay of fiscal conservatives. I guess they're Libertarians now? And American atheists would need their heads examined to vote for Palin, Romney and crew. American atheists with centrist ideologies are, unfortunately, over a barrel. They have to vote for the Dems and their, for lack of a better term, hippie jesus.

The whole mess is a pickle brought to you in part by some smart Republicans and in part by fundies. I don't have any answers for you but maybe I can help some liberals understand where fiscal conservatives are coming from?
When I said "smart Republicans" I meant that in the short term. They now appear to be headed for the rhubarb. The loons are starting to pilot the ship. I think they will be slowly marginalized unless they can muzzle the fundies. Even moderate christians won't be able to stomach them for long.
Graeme, I think your take on the recent history of the Republican Party is basically correct. The lunatics have taken over the asylum. Any so-called moderate Republicans pretty much have to become Blue Dog Democrats if they want to have a political party, and the socially liberal fiscal conservatives pretty much have to align with the Libertarians. The God Squad has chased both of those groups out.

Having said that, I'm progressive enough to be really annoyed by the Ayn Rand crowd. Sure, they don't believe in any god, but they do believe in a fairly nonsensical economic model that's at odds with the everyday irrationality of your standard human. They like to talk about enlightened self-interest, but what they generally mean is just petty self-interest. It seems fairly certain that cooperation is at least as important as competition in our evolutionary psychology, but the Randians can't seem to see that or they choose to ignore it.

It is often noted that the main reason atheism doesn't really gain much traction as a movement is that the thing we atheists have in common is something that we don't have--belief in a god. I think it would be grand if atheism became the norm in the US, but I'm convinced that the only way that will happen is the same way it happened in Scandinavia: progressive government policies that provide a real safety net to replace the imaginary safety net of religion. Libertarian ideals preclude a safety net, and thus keep people trapped in the arms of religion. We're simply not all going to be rugged independent cowboys, no matter how many copies of Atlas Shrugged get sold.

So mwg, I'm not inclined to chase libertarians off of this or any other forum, but I honestly don't see a lot of common cause with the harder cases. They may have rejected gods and religion, but they've embraced a dehumanizing ideology that just doesn't give a damn whether their fellow citizens sink or swim. It's not realistic to expect progressives to link arms with people who don't value linked arms.
Jason, I am not an expert on political science, but if I understand correctly, objectivism is a subset of libertarianism, which is quite broad. I call myself a libertarian because I favor drug legalization (and no, not for personal purposes, because I never have taken any, and have no intenion of doing so, even if it becomes legal), keeping abortion legal, and so forth, which doesn't exactly put me in the conservative camp (in the U.S. context), and I favor very permissive gun laws, which doesn't exactly put me in the liberal camp (in the U.S. context). Since I almost always come down on the side of permissiveness on social issues, I call myself a libertarian---even though I do favor some form of a social safety net (as I will explain below). Does that make sense? I am not sure what you'd call someone who favors permissiveness across the board, and also favors some form of social safety net (albeit, with government still being kept reasonably small).

You are absolutely correct about the effect of a social safety net on religion, in my estimation. Victor Stenger, in his 2009 book The New Atheism places a scatter plot of degree of religiousness (on the y-axis) versus per-capita GDP (on the x-axis) in the final chapter. As one would expect, very poor countries are very religious. However, there is clearly a second dynamic working in concert with the first dynamic (wealth). Western Europe is at roughly the same per-capita wealth as the U.S., but is much less religious. The former has extensive social safety nets, while the latter does not. Therefore, it would seem that the second dynamic is the presense of absense of a social safety net. In other words, an upper middle class person in the U.S. may very well go to a megachurch and speak in tongues, but an upper middle class person in Denmark almost certainly would not doing anything like that. It is the interplay of these two dynamics that explains the varying degrees of theism that we observe around the world today.

By the way, I started a group called "Victor Stenger" two days ago, and am still the only member. I am using this opportunity to shamelessly plug my new group. :) The man is brilliant, and has done a lot to advance atheism.
mwg, I guess I'm mostly concerned about the rabid Randian end of the libertarian spectrum. Honestly, those people seem to actively despise humans in general. I agree with most of your position; there is, after all, an intersection of liberal and libertarian. I just part ways with those who extend the notion of "nobody should tell me what to do" to the extreme of "everybody should go find their own damn planet, because this one is mine, and I'm going to do whatever I want to it".

I'm a fan of Stenger. I have read one of his books (my library is in disarray after a house move, or I'd tell you which one) and admire his contributions greatly. I'll go check out your group. Gregory S. Paul has done some interesting work on the negative correlation between social safety nets and religiosity.
"And American atheists would need their heads examined to vote for Palin, Romney and crew."

Well, for the most part, I agree with you, except for the fact that those individuals, religious nutcases though they may be, are much more tolerant of firearms that I safely keep in the privacy of my own home that will never, ever be used illegally.

When someone gets extremely worked up over mere inanimate objects stored safely in the privacy of another person's home, well, that person comes off very irrationally, almost in a religious sort of way.

But yes, Sarah Palin et al. are religious freakshows.

Edit: Moderator(s), I have tried several times to place this post directly under Graeme's first post, by clicking the "Reply to This" link, but it has not worked. If you can, would you please move it to that position? Thank you.
Well, never say never. It's certainly possible that somebody could steal your firearms.


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